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Âşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (25 October 1894 – 21 March 1973), commonly known simply as Âşık Veysel, was a Turkish minstrel and highly regarded poet of the Turkish folk literature. He was born in the Sivrialan village of the Şarkışla district, in the province of Sivas. He was an ashik, poet, songwriter, and a bağlama virtuoso, the prominent representative of the Anatolian ashik tradition in the 20th century. He was blind for most of his lifetime. His songs are usually sad tunes, often dealing with the inevitability of death. However, Veysel used a wide range of themes for his lyrics; based on morals, values, and constant questioning on issues such as love, care, beliefs, and how he saw the world as a blind man.
Smallpox was prevalent throughout the Ottoman region that included Sivas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His mother Gülizar and his father Ahmet had already lost two daughters to smallpox before Veysel was born. When Veysel turned seven in 1901, another smallpox outbreak occurred in Sivas, and Veysel contracted the disease as well. He became blind in his left eye and a cataract developed in his right eye. After an accident, his right eye was blinded as well. His father gave his blind son a bağlama and recited many folk poems to him. Poets of the region also started to drop by Ahmet Şatıroğlu’s house as well with their friends. They played instruments and sang songs. Veysel used to listen to them carefully.
Veysel devoted himself wholeheartedly to playing bağlama and singing. He was first instructed by his father's friend, Çamışıhlı Ali Aga (Âşık Alâ), who taught him about the works of Pir Sultan Abdal, Karacaoğlan, Dertli, Rühsati and other great alevi poets and ashiks of Anatolia.
Veysel was 20 when the First World War started. All of his friends and his brother rushed to the front, but because of his blindness he was left alone with his bağlama.
After the war, he married a woman named Esma, who bore him a daughter and a son. The son died 10 days after birth. On 24 February 1921 Veysel's mother died, followed eighteen months later by his father. By then Esma had left him and their six-month-old daughter, running off with a servant from his brother's house. His daughter also died at a young age.
He met Ahmet Kutsi Tecer, a literature teacher in Sivas High School, who along with his colleagues founded the Association For Preservation of Folk Poets in 1931. On 5 December 1931 they organized the Fest of Folk Poets, which lasted for three days. Veysel's meeting with Ahmet Kutsi Tecer thus marked a turning point in his life.
Until 1933, Veysel played and sang the poems of master ozans. In the tenth anniversary of the Republic, upon the directives of Ahmet Kutsi Tecer, all folk poets wrote poems about the Republic and Mustafa Kemal. Veysel submitted a poem starting with the line "Atatürk is the revival of Turkey...". This poem came into daylight only after Veysel left his village.
Ali Rıza Bey, the mayor of Ağcakışla to which Sivrialan was then affiliated, had much appreciation for Veysel's poem and wanted to send it to Ankara. Veysel said he would like to go to visit the nation's leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and traveled to Ankara on foot with his faithful friend İbrahim under tough winter conditions. They arrived in Ankara three months later. Veysel resided with his hospitable friends for forty five days in Ankara. Sadly, he was unable to present his poem to Atatürk. His mother Gülizar said that "He felt bitter regret for two things in life: first not having been able to visit the great leader, and second, not being able to join the army…". However, his poem was printed in a printing house named Hakimiyeti Milliye in Ulus, and was published in the newspaper for three days. Then, he started to travel around the country to perform his poems.
Veysel said the following about this time in his life:
|“||We left the village. We could arrive in Ankara only in three months after having passed through the villages of Yozgat, Çorum and Çankırı. We did not have enough money to stay at a hotel. We thought a lot about "What to do? Where to go". People told us, "Here lives a Pasha from Erzurum. He is a very hospitable man". The Pasha had a house built in the then called Dağardı (that is now known as the Quarter of Atıf Bey). We went there. This man really put us as a guest in his house. We stayed there a couple of days. At that date, there were no trucks or anything in Ankara, like today. Everything was run by horse carriages. We met a man named Hasan Efendi who had horse carriages. He took us to his house. We stayed at his house for forty-five days. During our stay there, we used to go out, ramble around and return to the house, and we used to see that he prepared our dinner, our bed and everything. Then I told him:
―Hasan Efendi, we are not here to ramble around! We have a tale. We would like to give this to Mustafa Kemal. How can we do that? What can we do?
―To tell you the truth, I don’t know about such things. There is a deputy here. His name is Mustafa but I cannot remember his surname. We have to tell this to him. May be, he can help you.
Then we went by Mustafa Bey and told him the issue. We said that we have a tale that we want give to Mustafa Kemal. We asked for help!
―My God! This is not the right time to lose time with poetry. Go and sing it somewhere else!
―No, this is not possible! We will sing our tale to Mustafa Kemal!
The deputy Mustafa Bey said "Okay, sing it to me first!". We sang him and he listened. He said he would talk to the Newspaper named Hakimiyet-i Milliye that was being published in Ankara at that date. He said "Come and visit me tomorrow!". We went by him the other day. He said, "I can not do anything!". We thought a lot about what to do. At last, we decided to go to the printing house ourselves. We had to renew the strings of the instrument. The bazaar in Ulus Square was then named Karaoğlan Bazaar. We walked to that bazaar to buy strings.
We had sandals on our feet. We were wearing woolen baggy trousers and woolen jackets. We braced a big cummerbund on our waists. Then came the police. He said:
―Do not enter! It is forbidden!
And he did not let us get in the bazaar to buy strings. He insisted:
―I say it’s forbidden! Don’t you understand what I say? It is crowded there. Do not get into the crowd!
We said "Okay, let’s not get in there". We went on walking pretending as if we got rid of him. He came by, and rebuked my friend İbrahim:
―Are you nutty? I say do not get in! I’ll just break your neck!
―Gentleman, we do not obey you! We are going to buy strings from the bazaar!
Then the police said to İbrahim:
―If you are going to buy strings, then have this man seated somewhere first. And then go and buy your string!
Then, İbrahim went and bought the strings. But in the morning we could not pass through the bazaar. Finally, we found the printing house.
―What do you want? Said the Director.
―We have a tale; we want to have it published in the paper.
―Play it to me first, I want to hear it!
We played the tale and he listened.
―Woo! Very well done! I liked it a lot. He said.
They inscribed the tale, and said "It will be published tomorrow. Come and take a paper tomorrow". There, they gave us some money for the copyrights. The other morning, we went there and took 5-6 copies. We went to the bazaar. The policemen came by and said:
―Oh! Are you Âşık Veysel? Relax sir! Get in the coffeehouses! Take a seat!
And they started making compliments. We rambled around in the bazaar for a while. But still we could not take any news about our visit to Mustafa Kemal. We said to ourselves: "This is not going to come true". But they published my tale in the paper for three subsequent days. Again nothing about my visit to Mustafa Kemal. .. We decided to go back to our village. Bu we did not have any money for the traveling expenses. We met a lawyer in Ankara. He said:
―Let me write a letter to the mayor. The municipality can meet your traveling expenses.
Then he gave us a letter. We went to the municipality with the letter. There they told us:
―You are artisans. You can go back the way you came!
We came back to the lawyer. He asked us what we did. We told him. He said "Let me write another letter to the governor this time". He wrote a letter to the governor. The governor undersigned the letter and told us to apply to the municipality. we went to the municipality. But they said:
―No! We don’t have any money. We won’t help you.
The lawyer got offended and yelled out:
―Go! Go away! The municipality of Ankara does not have any money to spend for you!
I felt sorry for the lawyer.
We thought about what to do, how to solve the problem. And then we decided to stop by the Community Center. May be something useful would happen there! "If we can not visit Mustafa Kemal, let’s go to the Community Center", we thought. This time the doormen did not allow us get in there. As we were standing by the door, a man came by and said:
―What are you doing here? What are you looking for?
―We are going to get in the Community Center but they don’t let us, we replied.
―Let them get in! These are well known men! This is Âşık Veysel! He said.
That man who came by us sent us to the director of the literature department. There people said:
―Oh, please come in!
There were some deputies in the Community Center. The director called them:
―Come here! There are folk poets here, come and listen to them!
Necib Ali Bey, one of the ex-deputies said:
―Well, these are poor men. Let’s take care of them. We have to have good clothes sewed for them. They can give a concert at the Community Center on Sunday!
They really bought us a pair of suits. That Sunday, we gave a concert at the Community Center of Ankara. After the concert, they gave us some money. We returned from Ankara to our village with that money.
Upon the establishment of the Village Institutes, an initiative from Ahmet Kutsi Tecer, Âşık Veysel worked as a bağlama teacher in the Village Institutes of Arifiye, Hasanoğlan, Çifteler, Kastamonu, Yıldızeli and Akpınar. In these schools, many intellectuals who later scorned Turkey's culture were able to meet the artist and improve their poetic sensibilities.
In 1965, the Turkish Grand National Assembly resolved upon allocating a monthly salary in 500 TL to Âşık Veysel in return for “his contribution to our native language and national solidarity.” On 21 March 1973 at 3:30 am, Veysel died in Sivrialan, the village he was born in, in a house that now serves as a museum.
In 2000, a compilation album of Âşık Veysel's songs named Âşık Veysel Klasikleri was released. In 2008, Joe Satriani's album Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock featured two songs called Âşık Veysel and Andalusia, which were dedicated to Âşık Veysel. In the same year, a remixed version of Âşık Veysel's song Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım was featured as the main theme in a Turkish film series, Gece Gündüz.
"Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım", translated to English: "I Walk On A Long And Narrow Road" is one of Veysel's best known works and is still popular among fans of Turkish folk music.
Uzun ince bir yoldayım,
Gidiyorum gündüz gece,
Bilmiyorum ne haldeyim,
Gidiyorum gündüz gece.
Dünyaya geldiğim anda,
Yürüdüm aynı zamanda,
İki kapılı bir handa
Gidiyorum gündüz gece.
Uykuda dahi yürüyom,
I am on a long and narrow road,
I walk day and night;
I do not know what state I am in
I walk day and night;
The moment I came into the world,
I walked at the same time
At an inn with two doors
I walk day and night.
I walk even while sleeping,